Money saved on some Northwest Indiana road projects will benefit public transportation in the area, the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission decided Thursday.
The city, town and county officials on NIRPC's board voted to re-allocate about $1.9 million that became available because bids on several federally funded road projects had come in lower than expected earlier this year. The largest under-bid was about $1.1 million for reconstruction of Airport Road in Gary.
Using a new NIRPC process, the money saved on the road bids will go to several transit projects that had been on NIRPC's so-called "B list" of projects – those that hadn't made the original list of funding priorities but were "waiting for money to fall from the sky," as NIRPC Vice Chair Geof Benson, of Beverly Shores, said.
The Gary Public Transportation Corp. will get $1.1 million for operating assistance and to replace two buses.
Smaller bus services run by North Township, Opportunity Enterprises, Porter County Aging and Community Services, South Lake County Community Services, and the city of Valparaiso will split the remaining $604,286 to buy a total of 10 replacement vehicles.
Every year, the Indiana Department of Transportation allocates money to NIRPC from the Federal Highway Administration, to be used by cities, towns and counties.
Gary Evers, NIRPC's transportation project manager, said money from the road projects had to be re-allocated before NIRPC's fiscal year ends May 31.
Evers added he was surprised by the amount of under-bids on projects this year.
The "B-list" had been drawn by NIRPC's Transportation Resources Oversight Committee, formed during the commission's committee reorganization last year.
Also at Thursday's meeting:
•Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas asked Rick Powers, deputy commissioner of the Indiana Department of Transportation, when Interstate 65 would be widened to three lanes each direction all the way from Northwest Indiana to Indianapolis.
"That is a dangerous and stressful drive (now)," Costas said. "It sort of takes the wind out of you." Some people have taken to using other routes, he added.
Powers said everything depends on funding, and he couldn't estimate when the complete widening would happen.
Benson noted, though, that INDOT recently shelved a proposed project to widen I-65 to three lanes between Indiana 2 and Indiana 10.
•NIRPC Executive Director Ty Warner said the CommuniTree program, which aims to plant about 3,000 trees in Northwest Indiana this year, will begin officially with a ceremony at East Chicago's Washington Park from 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday, April 26. The new trees will replace those killed by the emerald ash borer, an insect.